How Long Do I Have to Move My Car on the Side of the Road After a Breakdown?

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

Imagine the sudden jolt of anxiety as your car grinds to a halt, leaving you stranded on the side of a busy highway. The roar of passing traffic, the flashing of hazard lights, and a sense of urgency set in. You’re stuck in a situation that needs immediate resolution.

The stress of a breakdown isn’t just about inconvenience; it’s a test of your knowledge and quick decision-making under pressure. How long can your car remain there? What are the legal and safety implications?

Use this article isn’t as your guide during the chaos of a roadside breakdown. It arms you with crucial information to transform a potentially hazardous situation into a controlled one. Stay with us as we unravel the steps to safely handle a car on the side of the road and turn a moment of panic into a structured plan of action.

State Laws and Regulations

Navigating the intricacies of state laws and regulations is essential when you find your car on the side of the road after a breakdown. Different states have varying rules, and knowing them can make a significant difference in how you handle such situations.

The Variance in State Laws

Every state in the U.S. has its set of laws regarding a roadside car breakdown. For instance, in Indiana, the “Move Over or Slow Down” law requires drivers on a road with multiple lanes to move over or slow down for any vehicle that’s broken down with hazard lights on. This law, initially designed for emergency vehicles, now includes all vehicles in distress to offer an extra layer of safety.

In Pennsylvania, the approach is slightly different. It’s illegal to leave your car running while unattended. This law aims to prevent theft and accidents but also imposes a responsibility on the driver.

If you’re caught leaving your car running and unattended, it’s not just considered a small oversight. It’s a summary offense that could lead to a fine. This emphasizes the need for immediate action and awareness in such scenarios.

Time Constraints and Legal Implications

Understanding time constraints in different states is also critical. For instance, Arizona allows you to leave a vehicle unattended and running for five minutes or less. This brief window might seem insignificant, but it can be crucial for making quick decisions like calling for assistance or quickly gathering your belongings.

In contrast, Florida has stricter rules for vehicles that have broken down on limited access roadways. Here, you can park your car off the pavement of an expressway for no more than six hours. After this, the law views your vehicle as a public nuisance which can lead to possible legal actions.

If the vehicle is left on other roads, it might be towed after 48 hours.

Prioritizing Safety and Compliance

No matter the state, the underlying principle remains the same: prioritize your safety and comply with local laws. Getting your car off the road and into a safe spot is the first step.

Once you’re in a safe location, assess your situation. Are you obstructing traffic? Is there a risk of further accidents? Answering these questions can guide your immediate actions.

Remember, the longer your broken down car remains on the side of the road, the more complicated your situation can become. It’s not just about avoiding fines or towing. It’s about ensuring the safety of yourself and other road users.

Keeping Informed

Staying informed about these laws is not just a one-time task. States periodically update their regulations, and being aware of these changes is essential. A good practice is to familiarize yourself with the laws of the states you frequently travel through.

Steps to Take Immediately After a Breakdown

When your car breaks down, it’s crucial to act quickly and smartly. Here’s what you need to do right after your vehicle stops running.

The first thing to do is to make sure you’re safe. If your car still moves, get your car off the road. Pull over to the shoulder or a safe area off the road.

This reduces the risk of causing an accident or blocking traffic. Once you’re safely off the road, turn on your hazard lights. This signals to other drivers that your car is not moving and to be cautious around you.

Next, try to figure out what’s wrong with your car. Is it something simple you can fix, like a flat tire? Or is it more serious?

If it’s a minor issue and you have the tools and know-how, you might be able to handle it yourself. But if it’s something major, or you’re not sure what the problem is, it’s time to call for help.

While waiting for help, it’s a good idea to assess what you have and what you might need. For example, check your car for water, snacks, and a first-aid kit. You don’t know how long you might be waiting so while it’s tempting to while away the hours on your phone, a charged phone might be your only way to communicate with whoever is coming to assist you.

What to Do If You Can’t Move Your Car

When your car breaks down and you can’t move it, it’s crucial to know the right steps to take. This situation can be stressful, but acting wisely can make a big difference.

Signal Your Distress

Firstly, turn on your hazard lights. This is an essential step to alert other drivers that your vehicle is not moving. These flashing lights are a universal sign that tells others you are having trouble, which can help prevent accidents and ensure your safety.

Assess Your Location

Take a moment to look at where you are. Are you blocking traffic? Are you on a busy road or a quiet street?

Your location can affect how urgently you need to act. If you’re in a dangerous spot, like on a blind curve or a narrow bridge, you’ll need to be extra cautious.

Stay Safe Inside Your Vehicle

In most situations, it’s safer to stay inside your car, especially if you’re on a busy road. Keep your doors locked and your seatbelt fastened. This protects you from the dangers of oncoming traffic and any other potential hazards outside your vehicle.

Contact Emergency Services If Necessary

If you feel that you or other road users are in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to call emergency services. They can provide quick assistance, help manage traffic around your vehicle, and ensure everyone’s safety.

Call for Car Towing Services

When it’s clear that your car can’t be driven, it’s time to call for car towing services. Have a list of contacts for local towing companies or your roadside assistance provider. Explain your situation clearly so they can provide the right kind of help.

If you don’t have a go-to service, a quick search on your phone can help you find nearby towing services.

Wait Safely and Patiently

Once you’ve called for help, wait patiently for them to arrive. It can be frustrating to wait, especially if you’re in a hurry, but remember that safety is the most important thing. Keep an eye on your surroundings and stay aware of the traffic around you.

Gather Important Items

While waiting, gather any important items you might need, like your driver’s license, registration, insurance information, and any valuables. This will speed up the process once help arrives and ensure you have everything you need if you have to leave your car.

Consider Alternative Transportation

If you have an urgent appointment or need to be somewhere, consider alternative transportation. You could call a friend or family member, or use a ride-hailing service. Just ensure that you communicate with the towing service about where they can take your car, or arrange to meet them there later.

The Implications of Leaving Your Car Unattended

When your car breaks down and you leave it on the side of the road, it’s not just a matter of inconvenience. There are several implications, both legal and practical, that you need to consider.

Legal Consequences

Leaving your car unattended, especially for an extended period, can lead to legal issues. For example, as mentioned earlier, in some states like Florida, leaving your vehicle on the side of a highway for more than six hours could classify it as a public nuisance.

This could lead to your car being towed or even impounded. In other states, fines may apply if you leave your vehicle in a hazardous position or if it’s causing obstruction.

Safety Concerns

An unattended car can become a safety hazard, not just for you but for other road users. It can obstruct visibility or traffic flow, leading to potential accidents. This is particularly true if your car is left in a position where it’s not clearly visible to other drivers, like on a curve or just after a hill.

Risk of Theft or Vandalism

An unattended car is also at risk of theft or vandalism. Leaving your car unsecured and out of sight can make it an easy target for criminals. This risk increases the longer the car is left unattended.

Impact on Car Insurance

If you leave your car unattended and it gets damaged or stolen, you might face challenges with your car insurance claims. Some policies have clauses that could affect your coverage if it’s found that you did not take reasonable steps to secure or remove your vehicle from a hazardous situation.

The Cost of Towing and Storage

If your car is towed, you could be facing significant costs. Towing charges and storage fees can accumulate quickly, especially if you’re unaware that your car has been towed.

Retrieving your car from an impound lot often involves paying all the accumulated fees, which can be a substantial and unexpected expense.

What You Should Do With Your Car on the Side of the Road

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to leave your car, try to minimize the time it is left unattended. Use your phone or any available resources to call for car towing services immediately. In cases where you need to leave your car, ensure it’s left in a safe and legal position, and take all valuables with you.

How Cash Auto Salvage Can Help

In situations where your car has broken down and can’t be repaired or moved, Cash Auto Salvage offers a convenient and beneficial solution. If you’re stuck with a junk car, whether it’s gently used, damaged, or completely totaled, our service can turn your misfortune into an opportunity.

Cash Auto Salvage simplifies the process of getting rid of your car. We understand that dealing with a broken-down vehicle can be stressful, so we aim to make the experience as hassle-free as possible.

You don’t have to worry about finding a buyer or negotiating prices. We provide fair, competitive offers for all types of vehicles, regardless of their condition.

One of the standout features of our service is the free towing. When you decide to sell your car to us, we’ll arrange for it to be towed at no cost to you. This is particularly helpful if your car is immobile and you’re concerned about the additional expenses and logistics of moving it.

Selling your car to Cash Auto Salvage is a quick and straightforward process. You start by answering a few questions about your vehicle. This can be done over the phone or through our online form.

Based on the information you provide, we’ll give you a free, no-obligation quote. If you accept our offer, we’ll arrange for the free towing of your vehicle and pay you on the spot. This immediate payment takes the stress out of waiting for funds to clear or dealing with uncertain buyers.

Turning Breakdowns into Opportunities

Stranded with your car on the side of the road? Don’t let this turn into a prolonged nightmare. At Cash Auto Salvage, we turn your troubles into opportunities.

Whether your vehicle is gently used or totaled, we offer top dollar and free towing to ensure a swift and rewarding resolution. Discover how much your car is worth and let us provide you with a hassle-free way to move forward. Reach out to Cash Auto Salvage today and transform your breakdown into cash in hand.

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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